Ziwaj Mutʿa

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Temporary marriage.

Temporary marriage (ziwaj mut ʿa), which was practiced in early Islamic Arabia, is a contract between a man and an unmarried woman for a particular duration of time. A man can marry numerous temporary wives in addition to his permanent wife or wives. Umar (r. 634644), the second caliph, outlawed temporary marriage, but Shiʿites did not find his position legally binding because the Prophet and the Qurʾan permitted mut ʿa marriage. Even a few Sunni societies continued to practice certain forms of mut ʿa marriage.

Social and economic circumstances shaping modern Shiʿite societies led to the emergence of new and at times arbitrary forms of temporary marriage. After the rise of the Iranian Islamic Republic in 1979, temporary marriage became popular, particularly among the urban lower classes. It also surfaced in Lebanon and other Arab Shiʿite communities. Shiʿite jurists debated several conditions relating to temporary marriage, but the law remained vague and ambivalent about women's rights. It is rare for a woman to negotiate a share of her husband's inheritance. A man is expected to provide for his children from a temporary marriage, but there are no institutional guarantees. A temporary marriage can be terminated by mutual consent before the end of the stipulated period. Overall, men have greater legal rights and control over the conditions of muta ʿa than women.

see also gender: gender and health; gender: gender and law; shariʿa; shiʿism.


Haeri, Shahla. Law of Desire: Temporary Marriage in Shi ʿi Iran. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1989.

Khomeini, Ayatullah Ruhullah. "Non-Permanent Marriage." Mahjubih 2, no. 5 (1982): 3840.

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